technology. By the end of the nineteenth century there was a new mood of anxiety, which was reflected in political debate. The rise of foreign competition led some to doubt the value of free trade, and to urge the return of protection. There was deep unease that the slower rate of population growth was a source of weakness, particularly because the birth rate of the middle class and 'respectable' workers was lower than that of the poor. The result, it was feared by some commentators, would be a deterioration in the racial stock and degeneration. Others shared the concern, but felt that the consequences could be overcome by improvement in the environment, health, and education in order to increase efficiency and productivity. Perhaps the experience of Germany and America showed the virtues of improved technical education and the application of science to industry, which led some politicians to urge a reform of the education system, which was strongly opposed by others who stressed the value of a liberal, non-vocational education. Until 1914, these debates took place from a position of strength, for Britain was still highly prosperous, with a dominant role in world trade in manufactures and financial markets. After the First World War, there were far deeper problems: the position of London was challenged by the rise of New York, the world economy on which Britain was so dependent was unstable, the staple industries of coal, cotton, and shipbuilding were in decline, and the costs of defending the extended British empire were straining the domestic economy.